Career firefighters to staff Chuckatuck station

Published 10:17 pm Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Suffolk Department of Fire & Rescue will begin staffing the Chuckatuck fire station every day, around the clock, starting Thursday.

The decision was unanimously made by the volunteer fire department — the board of directors, operational officers and membership — in January to approach the city to request 24-hour staffing, according to a statement the Chuckatuck Volunteer Fire Department posted on its Facebook page Wednesday morning.

“First and foremost, it’s about the protection of the community, and if we are at a point where we cannot provide for the community, we will step aside,” Chuckatuck Volunteer Fire Department President Brad Whitley said in a phone interview Wednesday. “We’ve reached a point where we can’t fill the obligation, and we need to be the bigger person and say, ‘We need help.'”

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The Facebook statement said call volume has increased while efforts to recruit more volunteers have been unsuccessful. The current volunteers are facing more demands on their time than ever before.

“From an operational standpoint, the volunteers will not be concerned any longer for staffing an engine for the primary response,” said Suffolk Department of Fire & Rescue Chief Cedric Scott said. “Now that we have paid staff 24 hours a day and seven days a week, we no longer require the volunteers to staff the station.”

While there is not an immediate need, Suffolk Fire & Rescue still advocates to have the volunteers be involved with the fire station. According to the Facebook statement, volunteers will still have the opportunity to staff a second-run engine, as well as a tanker and brush truck.

“We are certainly looking forward to continuing the role of volunteers whenever they can help us out,” Scott said. “We are looking forward to them helping us out. We are hoping the long and great service that we have received from volunteers will continue, but more in a support role.”

Whitley believes the role of the volunteers isn’t certain right now.

“Regardless of how it all shakes up, we would like to thank everyone for all the support these years,” Whitley said. “We will try and do something good for the community. We don’t know what our involvement is going to be, but we’re going to do something.”

Now that Suffolk Fire & Rescue has taken over control, the fire station will have six employees working at all times — five career-staffed employees and one part-time employee.

The operational change will provide a benefit to the area because it will continue to provide residents with “high quality of public safety,” according to Scott. There will still be continuous coverage of fire protection and emergency medical services.

“It will be a seamless transition tomorrow as we transition to our expanded role in Chuckatuck. Citizens should be assured that we will continue to provide high-quality public safety,” Scott said.

Suffolk Fire & Rescue will initially pull firefighters from other stations to fulfill the needs of Chuckatuck, but Scott plans to work on operating budgets to give every fire station a full staff.

The staffing change is likely to cause overtime and become an additional cost to the city, but no estimate of those costs was made available Wednesday.

“The city will be in a better position to project any ongoing additional costs of staffing Station 9 within 90 days after implementing the new staffing plan,” said city spokeswoman Diana Klink.

“Implantation of the staffing plan at Chuckatuck will reduce firefighters at other locations through the city,” Scott said. “However, I will be working with city manager to develop future operating budgets to increase staffing around the city at the appropriate time.”